Interior designer Betty Wasserman. Photograph by Eric Striffler

The Collective Questionnaire

Betty Wasserman

By Megan Deem
November 13, 2017

The East Coast interior designer reveals her tricks for pairing décor with art

Betty Wasserman is a rarity among her fellow interior designers in that she entered the profession after a career as a private art dealer. As a result, the sleek, minimalist spaces that are her signature are often punctuated with original paintings and sculptures for an elevated feel.

Q: How do you approach designing and curating art—which comes first?

A: It’s really a case-by-case basis. Typically, a client comes to us for interior design work, and we’ll complete the program, the palette, the finishes, the furniture, and then we get around to the art. By that point, they usually have less money left for things like accessories, tabletop, and artwork. But there are ways to spread the budget and get more bang for your buck, so to speak. You can always find unique works on paper, and emerging artists, and photography. Not every client is buying Keith Haring, or Warhol, or a Matisse drawing.

Q: But some are, right?

A: Of course. I have one particular client who is passionate about art. It’s really her baby. We’ve developed a custom-framing regimen for her, using three specific shades of the same wood and the same profile, scaled up or down depending on the size of the work. It uniforms her entire collection, so that it works seamlessly throughout her houses, and so that she can move pieces from one home to another.

A Sagaponack, New York, dining room designed by Wasserman. Photograph by Eric Striffler
A Sagaponack, New York, dining room designed by Wasserman. Photograph by Eric Striffler

Q: Are there benefits to thinking of the art first, instead of last—beyond having more money to spend on it?

A: I’m always thinking about the art from the beginning, and if the client is doing a renovation or we’re building from scratch, I can also get involved in the lighting. Right away, I’m saying, Where is the art going? Where are the art walls? How are we lighting these things?

Q: What do you suggest doing if you love your interior designer, but you have very different tastes in art? Is that a problem?

A: I think it is, actually. I would say if you don’t feel aligned with the person that you’re shopping with, then you need to find someone else to shop with. If you love the way they did your home and your furniture, but you’re not seeing eye-to-eye on the art, then you’ve got to find yourself an art consultant. That’s what art consultants do. It’s almost like, you have all these wonderful interior designers, but they hire lighting designers and kitchen planners because there are people that do things better when they specialize. There’s nothing wrong with saying, I don’t know that much about art, so therefore I’d better get someone who does. That’s just my philosophy.

Q: Do you have any tips for shopping online for art?

A: There are two different ways to purchase art online. One is from the strictly decorative point of view—I like that painting, it’s not too expensive, it’s decorative, and it doesn’t matter to me who the artist is. That’s fine, and I think the same way you can buy dishes online, you can purchase art, especially a photograph or a print. Then there’s the other end of the spectrum where you are a collector and you know an artist and have been following or collecting him or her. And you see something online, on eBay Collective or somewhere else. The internet’s great for sourcing because 20 years ago, it was very difficult, unless you knew somebody, to find out who had what. Now you can find out in five minutes, and it’s so much easier to resource things and collect things and find the things you’re trying to get. I love the internet for that.

This Wasserman-designed modern farmhouse in East Hampton, New York, features a Joel Perlman sculpture and Louise Crandell painting. Photograph by Eric Striffler
This Wasserman-designed modern farmhouse in East Hampton, New York, features a Joel Perlman sculpture and Louise Crandell painting. Photograph by Eric Striffler